Federal meetings rally rail supporters

By Peter Rusland

Black Press

Face-to-face meetings between Island Corridor Foundation’s Graham Bruce and government leaders could engineer cash for crucial passenger-rail upgrades by year’s end.

Bruce, ICF executive director, met last month with federal Transport Minister Chuck Strahl about plans to revamp rails between Victoria and Courtenay toward realistic daily service for commuters and others.

MP Jean Crowder wrote Strahl Dec. 2, urging “serious investment” in the aging E&N line.

Proponents argue line upgrades are strategic to the Island’s economic and social development, noting the population between Victoria and Nanaimo warrants federal rail investment.

Phase 1 of a $15-million revamp of rail ties and ballast for passenger rail would see VIA’s main terminus moved to Nanaimo from Victoria, and offer early-morning southbound service.

It would end with a late afternoon run from the capital to Nanaimo, explained Bruce.

“I’m a very optimistic guy and it’s going through the process of funding applications provincially and federally,” said Bruce, of $15 million the ICF applied for.

That taxpayer grant would be split between Ottawa and Victoria.

Bruce was encouraged about “good discussions” with Strahl.

“I had an hour with him and everything was face-to-face,” he said. “He was aware of our desire to see VIA rail service turned around.”

Current VIA passenger service is basically aimed at tourists and day-trippers, not people travelling daily to Victoria for work.

“We just want to have people ride the rail and see what we’re talking about,” Bruce said of political networking. “Once you see it, it makes common sense – it’s a natural to be enhanced.”

Crowder agreed, noting better rail service would spell needed jobs.

“Rail will provide an important, environmentally sound commuter option that’s in keeping with Canada’s goal of reducing its carbon footprint,” she wrote Strahl.

Next, Bruce is trying to meet with federal minister of state, Rob Merrifield, who’s responsible for VIA as a Crown corporation.

editor@nanaimobulletin.com